OLEAN — Twelve Cattaraugus County residents who were vaccinated for COVID-19 later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Dr. Kevin D. Watkins, Cattaraugus County's director of public health, told the Board of Health Tuesday that the residents — eight women and four men — were fully vaccinated when they tested positive for COVID-19.

Two of the residents who were vaccinated and later tested positive died, although their deaths have not yet been linked to COVID-19, Watkins said.

Of the 12 who were vaccinated, three received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson, four got the Moderna vaccine and five got the Pfizer vaccine, Watkins said. Five showed symptoms of the virus and seven were asymptomatic.

Watkins said the “breakthrough” cases, which he called rare, raise the uncertainty whether fully-vaccinated individuals can be contagious to the community.

The federal Center for Disease Control is currently looking into this question, Watkins said.

The state Department of Health has also expressed interest in the cases, Watkins said. Tests will be performed at the state laboratory to determine whether any of the 12 individuals had been infected by a variant COVID-19 strain.

“They could have been infected by variants,” Watkins said. “We are so far behind (looking for) the variants. It’s important to take precautions” including continuing to wear masks, not congregating in groups and washing hands frequently.

Watkins said he was happier with the pace of vaccine the county is receiving than he was just a month ago. As of Wednesday, there were 14,104 residents who have completed their vaccine series, Watkins said. Nearly 25,540 people, or 28% of the county's population, has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Watkins told the board the county is receiving between 1,000 to 1,500 doses of vaccine a week, up from about 300 per week doses in early March.

The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective at preventing serious illness, the Moderna vaccine is 94% effective and Johnson & Johnson is 72%, or 85% effective against severe COVID-19 illness.

“They work incredibly well to reduce the risk of COVID-19,” Watkins said, urging county residents not yet vaccinated to register for their shot in the arm.

The county’s death rate from COVID-19 is 1.9% — 92 deaths out of 4,919 positive cases. Some 4,667 people have recovered. Out of 128,677 tests performed over the past year, 123,758 were negative.

While Cattaraugus County has a lower rate of positive COVID-19 cases than Western New York, health officials continue to express concern over the possible impact of variant strains of the coronavirus.

The Western New York Region had a 6.2% positivity rate on Tuesday, while Cattaraugus County’s rate was 3.8%. Cases in the county have plateaued in the low 20s.

With more and more older residents being vaccinated, Watkins said there has been an increase in the number of cases of younger residents — especially ages 20-49, who make up 46.6% of COVID-19 cases across the county.

By contrast, the 60-69 age group had 12.3% of the cases, 70-79, 7.4%; 80-89, 4.2% and 90 and over 1.6%.

“The younger population is becoming more infected and seeing a lot of hospitalizations at this time,” Watkins said

On Wednesday, the health department reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 — 12 women and 11 men. Fourteen people were hospitalized with the coronavirus. That raised the total to 4,919 individuals who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past year.

Nine of the new COVID-19 cases were from the southeast corner of the county, bringing the total there to 2,732 cases. There were also nine new cases in the northeast part of the county for a total of 855, two in the southwest for a total of 755 and two in the northwest for a total of 577.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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